Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Video Internet

The Video Internet

There’s no doubt the broadband Internet is here. We’re not looking at projections but rather historical numbers which make it clear that things are going to get interesting. 55% of all US Internet homes are broadband connected homes. 33% of all US households now have broadband access and nearly 20 million have a home network. 10% of all Internet households access on-demand Internet video content each month. This equals a mass market with a mass audience. It took longer that many originally thought, but now its happening faster than anyone thinks.

But not only is the broadband Internet here, what I call the Video Internet is upon us too -- think the wild, wild west of the Web (the Page Internet) of 1995 and think about, in the not too distant future, a number of video presences on the Internet that begins to be measurable against the number of Web presences.

I think that the Video Internet will be a massively disrupting force to the video broadcasting business as we know it (how’s that for going out on a limb?) – Broadcast, Cable and Satellite providers. For some, like the ones who are ahead of the curve today like ABC News, Scripps Networks and others, disruption may not be a bad thing, rather an opportunity. Some will seize the day, some will struggle and adapt and some will struggle and never recover. Consider how profound a shift this is: Thirty years ago an aspiring broadcaster needed an FCC license. For the last twenty five years, the only other alternative was cable or satellite carriage. Now there are virtually no barriers – if one can bear the cost of the digital equipment and bandwidth, one can broadcast online.

The result will be an Internet where user interaction may be as much with a player/video, as with a browser/page, where video programming will abound, from traditional digital media producers and distributors, from the online giants (led by Yahoo, I’m guessing) and from a new universe of niche broadcasters and video bloggers who will make up what will be the very long tail of the Video Internet.

There is little doubt as to the above – look at the way cable evolved – HBO, Discovery, USA, FX, Lifetime etc., all started with repurposed, legacy or commodity content (CNN was launched on rebranded Reuters feeds), started to generate free cash flow and reinvested it in original programming. In parallel, the channel lineup exploded from 20-30 cable networks to hundreds as the appetite for broader choices and niche content grew. Why should the Internet be different – it won’t be, just more so. The big portals Yahoo, AOL and MSN (Google?, Amazon?) are or will soon be working on original content, the next tier of existing Web presences are thinking about video programming and the huge number of new “networks” – niche Internet broadcasters - will be a surprise to all but a few.

It’s already started: ABC News launched ABC News Now a 24 hour Internet-only broadcast news network last year – think CNN 25 years ago. Scripps’ newest network HGTVPro is an Internet-only network. CBS has original online video programming – talk shows about Survivor and Big Brother at CBS.com. USA simulcast the Westminster Dog Show. Major League Baseball streams every baseball game live at MLB.com. Yahoo simulcast the Fat Actress premiere. AOL’s been broadcasting live events (concerts) for a while and has made an online video franchise out of Desperate Housewives video recaps. MSN broadcast the Times Square New Years Eve celebration live and has aggressive plans for the future. Discovery and others are using cutting room floor content to complement and cross pollinate TV programming. And not just the traditional broadcasters, but print, Internet and even eCommerce sites like NYT, Washington Post, iVillage, Forbes, theKnot, about.com and Amazon are producing and streaming original video content.

And, most interesting, the stand alone Internet broadcasters are coming. Sites like http://www.evtv1.com/, http://www.heavy.com/, http://www.travelrapidly.com/, http://www.supersphere.com/, http://www.breaktv.com/, http://www.weird.tv.com/, http://www.zugaphoto.tv/, http://www.relaxingtv.com/, http://www.televisioninternet.com/, http://www.metv.com/, http://www.legalbroadcastnetwork.com/, http://www.zilo.com/, http://www.adventuretv.com/, http://www.sputnik7.com/, http://www.brycewilson.net/, http://www.maniatv.com/, http://www.streaminglaw.com/, http://www.tvworldwide.com/, http://www.thewebvideo.com/, http://www.blogtelevision.net/, http://www.netbroadcaster.com/, http://www.videodetective.com/, http://www.theonenetwork.com/, http://www.singingfool.com/, http://www.sidewalks.tv/, http://www.ugo.com/, http://www.healthysolutions.tv/, http://www.travelago.com/, www.current.tv and many, many others. Add to that the small but growing phenomenon of Video Blogging and get ready for video on the Internet to get wild. There are new companies and products launching everyday to provide the tools to enable this barrier-less broadcasting world – Brightcove, OliveLink, Vlog it! Cable, satellite and the Internet have proven the value of niche content and the Internet has shown us just how long a medium’s tail can be and that there is money to be made from long tails (ask Google). I would not be surprised if in 3-5 years the money to be made from the long tail (from ad inventory primarily) of the Video Internet isn’t greater than from the big three portals combined, despite their head start.

Now you know why Yahoo, Google and AOL (Singing Fish) have been spending so much time and money on video search engines. The explosion of video content needs a tool through which to surface the soon to be enormous amount of video content and tools like Yahoo’s Media RSS will put the publisher/broadcasters to work to help with the task and make the connections that much better.

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